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Inventing Equal Opportunity
Frank Dobbin

Winner of the 2010 Max Weber Award in the Organizations, Occupations, and Work Section of the American Sociological Association
Co-Winner of the 2012 Distinguished Scholarly Publication Award, American Sociological Association
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2009

Paperback | 2011 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691149950
360 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 54 line illus. 1 table.
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Equal opportunity in the workplace is thought to be the direct legacy of the civil rights and feminist movements and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yet, as Frank Dobbin demonstrates, corporate personnel experts--not Congress or the courts--were the ones who determined what equal opportunity meant in practice, designing changes in how employers hire, promote, and fire workers, and ultimately defining what discrimination is, and is not, in the American imagination.

Dobbin shows how Congress and the courts merely endorsed programs devised by corporate personnel. He traces how the first measures were adopted by military contractors worried that the Kennedy administration would cancel their contracts if they didn't take "affirmative action" to end discrimination. These measures built on existing personnel programs, many designed to prevent bias against unionists. Dobbin follows the changes in the law as personnel experts invented one wave after another of equal opportunity programs. He examines how corporate personnel formalized hiring and promotion practices in the 1970s to eradicate bias by managers; how in the 1980s they answered Ronald Reagan's threat to end affirmative action by recasting their efforts as diversity-management programs; and how the growing presence of women in the newly named human resources profession has contributed to a focus on sexual harassment and work/life issues.

Inventing Equal Opportunity reveals how the personnel profession devised--and ultimately transformed--our understanding of discrimination.


"Frank Dobbin's impressive Inventing Equal Opportunity documents the crucial role played by the personnel profession in translating equal employment law into practice. . . . Dobbin makes a powerful argument about the importance of long-overlooked personnel managers in creating the legal environment that governs so much of an American's working life."--Science

"In this superb book, Dobbin explains the process through which white males have now become 'victims' of a system intended to uplift disadvantaged groups; at the same time, it reveals the fallacy of judicial neutrality in civil rights cases. . . . Overall, Dobbin tells a clear, well-documented, fascinating story about workplace relations."--R.L. Hogler, Choice

"Inventing Equal Opportunity provides a much needed corrective to our understanding of the workings of corporate America in the face of external pressures surrounding inequality and law. . . . Consequent to [its] many strengths, I have no doubt that Inventing Equal Opportunity will find a welcome home on the 'must read' shelf among sociologists and graduate students of inequality, law, organizations, professions, and work."--Vincent J. Roscigno, Contemporary Sociology

"Dobbin's book is an eye-opening account of how a professional group used demands for equal opportunity to expand its professional jurisdiction. . . . Through their policies and programs, these experts heightened expectations for fair treatment and promoted a more sociological understanding of racism and sexism inside organizations."--Christine L. Williams, Gender and Society

"This impressive book makes a convincing case for human resources professionals as key players in the implementation of civil rights laws."--Edward Berkowitz, Journal of Social History

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
CHAPTER 1: Regulating Discrimination The Paradox of a Weak State 1
CHAPTER 2: Washington Outlaws Discrimination with a Broad Brush 22
CHAPTER 3: The End of Jim Crow
The Personnel Arsenal Put to New Purposes 41
CHAPTER 4: Washington Means Business
Personnel Experts Fashion a System of Compliance 75
CHAPTER 5: Fighting Bias with Bureaucracy 101
CHAPTER 6: The Reagan Revolution and the Rise of Diversity Management 133
CHAPTER 7: The Feminization of HR and Work-Family Programs 161
CHAPTER 8: Sexual Harassment as Employment Discrimination 190
CHAPTER 9: How Personnel Defined Equal Opportunity 220
Notes 235
Bibliography 261
Index 289

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